All of my allies had finally arrived. Tonight would be the first time we were all able to gather since Freyda, despite her new tactic of allowing me some freedom, would become too suspicious if they were caught talking to me inside the compound. I knew that she thought that allowing me small bits of freedom would sway me to her, but I also knew it was an absolute impossibility. She had taken everything away from me. She and Appius had conspired to sell me into slavery and, despite my maker’s death, had succeeded. I may have been forced to give up the love of my very long life, but I would not allow her to win for much longer.
I looked around the bar. I assumed that the Queen had some kind of tracking device on the vehicles she had given me, but I wasn’t anywhere that should arouse suspicion. I was simply at a bar, indulging in some True Blood. I couldn’t be gone long without attracting further attention, but I should have an hour or two before she sent someone out to fetch me.
The moment I walked into Edna’s I regretted letting Ritchie pick the bar. It was right up his alley. Dollar bills stapled to the wall, sticky floor, old school jukebox, and air that reeked of decades of cigarettes and vomit. I would have picked some place with a bit more class, but I didn’t want to ruin any of my regular locales with the risk of discovery. So I stood knee deep in filth waiting for my allies.
I walked over to the corner and grabbed one of the high tables, careful not to touch anything with my bare skin. I couldn’t wait to see Genevieve and Jean-Pierre’s reaction to the bar. Neither Mac nor Win would find anything wrong with it, and Dmitri was quite adaptable, but the two Parisians were used to a higher quality of haunts. Well, at least we wouldn’t be here too long, they could find other refreshments afterwards, but we needed to come together. In a little less than a week we would probably all die, that wasn’t the plan, of course, but it didn’t make it any less likely.
I had only been there about ten minutes when I looked up and saw Win bouncing in the door. Her eyes found mine easily and she loped over, joining me. She jumped into my arms and I hugged her warmly. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed having her around.
“Er,” she exclaimed jumping down and grabbing a bottle from the ones I already had waiting at the table. She took a step back and hopped up onto the bar stool beside her. “You have such interesting friends. You’ve gathered together an eclectic and loyal group. I had such fun with them.”
“Is that so my dear? Pam treated you well then I take it?”
She nodded. “Oh yes. Very well, but I’m especially fond of your Sookie. Why didn’t you mention her?” I froze mid-sip and stared at Win. Glancing up she noticed the look on my face and fell silent.
“I did not expect you to see her,” was all I managed to say. I continued placing the bottle to my lips, but there was no enjoyment in it, I tried simply to hide the pain I felt behind the action.
“She’s doing well and is planning to rescue you, just so you know.” Her words struck me deeply.
“What do you mean?” I practically roared at her. I calmed myself at the looks that had garnered from the other patrons. My voice came out a choking hiss. “She is supposed to be safe. I gave up an extra hundred years to ensure that. What kind of stupidity has she dreamt up this time?” My words were harsh, but inside I had to admit that my long-dead heart felt like it skipped a beat. I felt hope bubble to the surface. Could it be that she cares for me still? Had my Sookie found her bravery once more? I shoved the thought away. It would not do to allow such optimism.
“It’s not just her Eric. It’s all of them. They are all in on the plan to rescue you. Did you really expect any different?” She looked at me confused.
I slammed my bottle down on the table. “Yes, I most certainly did. I left very explicit instructions with Pam to do nothing.”
She stopped me. “And you expected that to work?” She let out a loud hearty laugh and clapped her hands together, bouncing in her chair. “Oh you are ridiculous and so obviously in love. The thousand-year-old Viking has finally fallen in love. Oh this is just too much. I only just met all of them and I knew that there was no way that would allow you to sacrifice yourself. Okay, well maybe Bill. He probably would have left you here to rot.” Leaning back, her smile was one of complete satisfaction.
“This is not funny Winifred. I gave up much to see them safe. I won’t allow it,” I said firmly. “You must go back there at once and inform them to stop their foolish plans.” I glared at her in an attempt to scare her into submission.
“Um, seriously? No way. They want to help and we need it,” her voice was firm and joined by another.
Mac stepped up to the table. “We need help? I thought this was an elite suicide mission. If we’re not going to die I need to rethink a few choices.” Mac was one of the older vampires I knew, not just in his age as a vampire, but in that he was turned when he was older than most. In truth, he was probably only in his mid-forties, but when he was turned in the early 15th century, he was already considered an old man. His gray hair and beard marked him apart from most vampires, but he was still strong and overly smart. We had become friends in Scotland in the 1600’s. He had always been a man who believed in a lost cause.
“Mac. It’s good to see you.” I held out my hand and grasped him by the forearm, my other hand placed firmly on his shoulder. “How have you been?”
“Good, good my dear boy.” I laughed ruefully at his word choice. “But you still haven’t answered my question. Will there be additional help to our little ragtag group here?”
Win piped up answering, “Yup. Six more vampires, one tiger, and a sassy telepath.”
I glared once again at her. “They will not be joining us. You will go there at once…”
“I. Will. Do. No. Such. Thing. Northman. And you should know better than to try and command me to do anything. Honestly, I don’t think they’d listen even if you wanted them to. So suck it up baby. Ain’t nothing you can do to stop them. Besides Sookie’s taking fighting lessons from Pam and you wouldn’t want that to go to waste now would you?”
I nearly choked on my blood. “Excuse me?” I gasped. “What did you just say? That Pam is teaching Sookie to fight? Oh this is fantastic. I get sold into slavery and look what happens. Pam finds a way to kick Sookie’s ass on a regular basis.”
“Actually I think it’s a fantastic idea and from what Pam says, she’s doing great. Not to mention…” She let her sentence trail off and die in the noise of the bar.
“What Win?” I asked her quizzically.
“Nothing. Nothing.” She shuffled her feet on the rungs of the barstool.
Mac looked back and forth between the two of us, the confusion obvious on his face. “Well I’m not sure what all the fooferall is about, but I agree with little bit here. We need all the help we can get, and if your friends want to enlist in this hopeless cause, I say the more the merrier.”
I was about to disagree further when I saw Genevieve and Jean-Pierre wander into the bar, looking around disdainfully for the rest of us. They were followed by Dmitri and I waved them over. I introduced everyone seeing as they didn’t know each other and indicated to the bartender to bring another round of blood. The only person we were missing now was Ritchie.
Win almost fell off her stool when he walked in. I’d never seen the look of shock she wore on her face in that moment. I chuckled to myself, I hadn’t thought about her reaction to him, but knowing her history, it made absolute sense.
“Is that…I mean…it can’t be. Can it? Oh my god. He’s…that’s…Is he walking over here?” She straightened her white button-up shirt and suspenders. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I’ve got to play it cool.” She sat back down, grabbing her bottle and trying to look nonchalant, but the furtive glimpses she kept sending his way negated any chance of that.
“Ritchie, we’re over here,” I called to him. I look sternly in Win’s direction while the others looked on in complete confusion. “Listen to me. He isn’t that guy anymore. Yes, it is him, and no he didn’t die of a heroin overdose like the media thinks, but he doesn’t like to remember those days. So remember, his name is Ritchie.”
“Oy! Northman. How are ya mate?” Ritchie looked as he did back in the seventies when he was turned. Spikey black hair, leather jacket, combat boots, and a British accent that had never dulled no matter how many years he spent here in the States.
He came over and joined the group. He grabbed a bottle of True Blood from the table and tilted it in the direction of the rest of us. “To those of us who are about to die, I salute you.” He slammed the bottle down on the table and tilted it back taking long swigging gulps. Win couldn’t take her eyes off of him. I kicked her under the table to remind her to keep her cool, if that was even remotely possible. I realized that I should probably have warned her he was coming, but who knew that she would turn out to be such a groupie.
I introduced him to everyone. “Ritchie. The grizzled old man to your left is Mac and the couple to your right is Genevieve and Jean-Pierre.” They nodded to him slightly, still in the dark about Win’s reaction. I let it go, knowing she’d fill them in later about the punk rock legend that had joined us. I gestured to the thickly-muscled, dark-skinned vampire next to me and said, “This is Dmitri and last but definitely not least, sitting across from you, five foot three and sassy over there is Win. Everyone, this is Ritchie. He rounds out our little fighting squad, or at least those fighters that I invited to join the party. It appears that we will also be joined by a contingent from Louisiana, though we still need to get more information about that from Win.”
Ritchie studied each face and greeted them. “Well it’s good to know that we aren’t the only bloody fools willing to die for Northman here.” He leaned against the wall and watching Win’s reaction to him. She nearly fainted when he winked in her direction and said, “Also good to know that there’s a looker in our little band of buggered.”
“Not now Ritch, flirt with Win later.” I shook my head and realized again that I should have known better.
“Sod off. I’m completely able to flirt and plan as you are well aware.” He looked at me knowingly and I was taken back to a London pub when he had successfully started a bar fight and still been able to flirt with the woman he’d been trying to pick up only moments before.
Dmitri’s thick Trinidadian accent brought us back to the topic at hand. “So, Halloween. Eric, I know not much of the plan so if you could explain that would be appreciated.” I might enjoy the Win’s discomfort, but Dmitri was right, we needed to focus.
“Win, if you’d like to expound on this other group joining this fight. It should, at least, even the odds a bit.” I raised my eyebrow indicating that now was the time to remember her loquaciousness.
“Ahh. Yes. So, Er, you know that Quinn has been planning this party for the Queen. Well it appears that he’s on our side. He’ll be hiding weapons for everyone since none of us will be allowed to bring any.”
Ritchie interrupted. “Who needs weapons? I’ll take a good bar brawl any day.”
“Yes, but not all of us are as barbaric as you are, evidently,” Genevieve’s smooth voice countered.
He simply tilted his drink in her direction and indicated that Win should go on, which she did. Once she got past her fangirl flirtations she laid out Pam and Sookie’s plan, which wasn’t a bad one, despite the fact that I’d prefer them to stay safe in Louisiana. I laughed when I heard parts of it, but it didn’t take long for her to finish and I took over, lending my portion of the plan to the conversation. By the end of the telling, over an hour had passed and I hadn’t much time left before I would be missed and Freyda would send someone looking for me.
I reminded everyone that to show no reaction when they saw me in the compound in the days before the party. I wasn’t worried about Genevieve and Jean-Pierre or Win, but none of the others had seen what I had been reduced to yet. I needed to warn them of what they’d see since I didn’t need any of them jumping the gun in reaction.
Mac and Dmitri’s bodies both stiffened to hear the story, but Ritchie was the one I worried about most. He was the most reactive of the group and had been known to lose his temper in the past. I gained all of their promises of patience, said my goodbyes, and asked Win to accompany me outside.
Once there I inquired of her, “How is she really?” I knew she would realize that I spoke of Sookie.
“She’s good Eric, I promise. When I left her Bubba was watching over her house as Karin was gathering supplies. She asked about you and seemed very protective. She wondered if we had been involved.” My undead heart once again leapt and I found that same hope surfacing. Was it jealousy I thought to myself? Win eyed me trying to gauge my response.
“And you said…” I asked, hesitating.
“I told her that there was nothing between us. She was incredibly relieved.”
I felt a grin break through despite my better judgment. “I could swear I had a vision of her the other day. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was real, but we both know that vampires do not dream.”
Win just laughed at me and quoted Shakespeare, “there are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio.”
We were both silent for a time. She was holding something back from me and I knew it, but she would tell me if she could. I assumed she had a reason, and I allowed it. Mostly because it gave me reason to hope. Hope that Sookie was thinking about me, that her intended rescue wasn’t simply her self-righteous humanism, but something more. I put my arm around Win’s small shoulders and pulled her towards me.
I decided to allow hope to take root inside me. I wouldn’t ask Win about it. I wanted to keep the dream alive for even the small amount of time I had before I saw her again: her beautiful long blond hair, her smile, the warm sunshine of her soul that she seemed to carry with her.
“She’s really coming,” I said quietly.
“Yes. She really is. And she has every intention of rescuing you this time.” Win smiled up at me and that same hope grew a bit more. I gathered Win the rest of the way into my arms, hugging her in parting. I would see her again soon enough.
I took the back roads on my return to the Queen’s compound, the stars my only companions, but my heart felt lighter than it had been in months. I dreamt of what it would be like to see Sookie again and found myself anxious for the upcoming fight. Not simply because it would mean my freedom, but because at least if I died I would see my love one last time, and if she was here, then I could protect her. Even if she didn’t still love me, I would be the one: not Karin, not Pam or Bubba or Bill.
I would protect her, even if it was the last thing I did.